Reality vets top rookies in rate race

'Fear,' 'Brother 2' fend off newcomers as Eye takes total viewers win

Call the first battle of the fall season a draw.

Reality series “Lost” on NBC and “The Amazing Race” on CBS opened to solid but unspectacular ratings Wednesday, as each was upstaged by stunt programming offered by the opposing net.

According to Nielsen, the new reality series finished second in their time periods in adults 18-49, with CBS’ “Big Brother 2” getting the better of “Lost” at 8 and NBC’s “Fear Factor” topping “The Amazing Race” at 9 (although “Race” prevailed by a slim margin in total viewers). Both summer incumbents — “Brother” and “Factor” — were late adds to the sked in an attempt to blunt the premieres of the heavily promoted new skeins.

For the two-hour block, CBS won in both 18-49 (4.9/14 to NBC’s 4.8/13) and total viewers (11.44 million to 10.61m). NBC took adults 18-34 (4.9/16 to 4.4/14).

CBS is likely more pleased with the night’s results, even if “Race” — which received the better reviews — didn’t break out of the starting blocks as well as biz observers had expected.

Not only did “Big Brother 2” (11.03 million viewers, 4.7/14 in A18-49) keep “Lost” (9.41m, 4.1/12) from finding a substantial opening-week aud, but “Race” (11.83m, 5.0/13) held up better against this summer’s hottest show, “Fear Factor,” than anything that has faced it. Still, “Fear” (11.81m, 5.5/14) exhibited more of its ratings muscle, opening up a wider lead on “Race” in the second half-hour after the two were virtually even in the first 30 minutes; “Race” was basically flat on the half-hour but lost some viewers under 18 to “Fear.”

“Fear Factor” won its hour by 1 share over “Race” in adults 18-49 and by 3 shares in adults 18-34. Shows finished in a virtual tie in adults 25-54, with “Race” prevailing among women and “Fear” scaring up more men.

“Fear’s” rating in adults 18-34 is better than all but one episode of NBC’s “The West Wing” in the hour last season, suggesting that CBS won’t face as tough competition for the young-adult aud as the season progresses. But CBS must also be hopeful that “Race” can work as something of a self-starter in upcoming weeks, when “60 Minutes II” — not the younger-skewing “Big Brother 2” — serves as its lead-in.

Eye boosts weak night

Another edge for CBS is the boost “Amazing Race” provides on one of its weakest nights vs. what “Lost” brings to NBC on one of its strongest. “Race’s” 18-49 rating (5.0/13), for example, tops every CBS score in the 9 o’clock hour during the last year except for Grammy night. The 4.1/12 earned by “Lost,” though, is below what “Ed” averaged with originals in the hour (4.6/13).

From the NBC perspective, net must be pleased that “Fear Factor” served to slow down “Race” at the starting gate, but somewhat disappointed that “Lost” could not overtake “Big Brother,” whose special episode featured former “Survivor” castaways.

Finite aud

The lower-than-expected ratings for both “Lost” and “Amazing Race” may simply point to a finite number of people interested in such shows. Each clearly felt the effect of the opposing reality skein in its time period.

Series like “Fear Factor” (5.2/17), “The Mole” (5.6/14) and “Survivor” (6.1/20) opened with higher 18-49 ratings than “Lost” (4.1/12) and “Amazing Race” (5.0/13) but none of them went head-to-head with another reality skein targeted at the same aud.

Next week should offer more clues as to the long-term ratings strength of both the six-episode “Lost” and 13-episode “Race.” The cream of the reality crop (“Survivor,” “Temptation Island”) has seen ratings growth during its run while others (the original “Big Brother,” “The Mole,” “Boot Camp”) remained flat or fell in subsequent weeks.

Both shows are skedded to face more typical competish next week, with “Lost” opposed by “60 Minutes II” at 8 and “Amazing Race” taking on a repeat of “The West Wing.”

“Race” and “Lost” will both receive encore airings of their first episodes this weekend. NBC has skedded “Lost” for Saturday at 8, while CBS has slotted “Amazing Race” for Sunday at 8.

Fox demo holds

Among the other nets with an interest in Wednesday’s battles, Fox must have been most pleased with the results, as the net’s core young-male aud didn’t abandon it. Fox’s repeat comedies, including a pair of “Simpsons” specials, won the 8-10 p.m. block among males 12-24.

ABC closed out the night well with the season premiere of “20/20” on its new night. Barbara Walters’ heavily hyped interview with Anne Heche was the night’s most-watched program (13.26m) and second only to “Fear Factor” in 18-49 (5.1/14). It’s the best showing for ABC in the hour with regular programming since May 2000.

Although CBS drew more viewers than NBC in the 8-10 reality battle, the Peacock — thanks to “Law & Order” at 10 — prevailed on the night (10.6 million to 10.2m), as well as in adults 18-49 (4.6/13 vs. 4.1/11).

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